The Rise of the Suburban Socialists


By Vish Burra

“The zip code a child is born in determines much of their destiny”. You can find this tagline everywhere and anywhere Democratic newcomer and overnight superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her campaign are present, from her website to her viral campaign video. This message of economic and class determinism and its resonance with the NY-14 Congressional district, which encompasses heavily Hispanic sections of Queens and the Bronx, are said to have propelled her insurgent socialist candidacy past 10-term Congressman Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY). With her surprise win also came the microscope of media scrutiny, where revelations of Ocasio-Cortez’s actual upbringing in a posh section of a wealthy county (Westchester, NY) came to light. Questions about which zip code she was born in, which zip code she was raised in, which zip code she was educated in, and which zip code gave her the opportunity to “determine her destiny” abound as the commentators and pundits pick apart her supposed history.

Though the religious notions of fate and destiny are anathema to socialists and leftists in general, this particular messaging seemed to strike a chord with the Ocasio-Cortez’s primary voters. In a district many may consider impoverished, it is reasonable these voters may look around, feel despair, and identify with this message. What is really in question though, is how much of her constituents’ struggle can Ocasio- Cortez actually identify with?

Ocasio- Cortez’s father, Sergio Ocasio, an architect and a Pratt institute graduate, was a founder of Kirschenbaum and Ocasio-Roman Architects. The ownership arrangement helped privilege the business over others to secure lucrative government contracts. Many in Ocasio-Cortez district may be unfamiliar with the affirmative action policies in place with the SBA (Small Business Administration) and other government agencies that provide line-skipping access to bids made by MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) certified enterprises, and we can be assured Ocasio- Cortez will stay mum about how these policies had been in place for decades and helped lift her family out of poverty to the point her father had purchased a home in Yorktown Heights, Westchester in 1991, when Ocasio-Cortez would have been 2 years old. Opportunities for Ocasio-Cortez constituents to enterprise may be scarce, but Ocasio-Cortez would have been more honest if she proselytized a campaign message more closely related to her actual experience, such as “There are already numerous systems in place (footed by the taxpayer) that allow for the social mobility of those stuck in despair in this district. My father’s story should serve as a guideline and inspiration for all.” Instead, Ocasio- Cortez hustled her skin color plus the insidious notion that she could not garner the votes of her eventual voters without selling to them that she was Hispanic AND a victimized worker, who’s fate was sealed the day she was born in the Bronx. The theme of race hustling transcends generations here, as her father used his minority status to skip lines for government contracts, and now Ocasio-Cortez used her race to gaslight the constituents of NY-14 that she was one of them, as opposed to the suburban, middle-class, and elite-educated millennial that she actually is and actively tries to hide.

The fact is that were we to remove race from the calculus of what Ocasio-Cortez “actually is”, what you see is nothing more than a Bernie Bro. If colorblind assessments are frowned upon, then she is a white Bernie Bro, just like most of the volunteers and campaign supporters who actually came out and put the hard work and sweat to push her campaign on the ground. The biographical profiles of Bernie Bros and Ocasio-Cortez are identical: Suburbanite, studied International Relations at elite Boston University, worked for Senator Ted Kennedy, attending leftist protests, and founding social justice publications. Does this sound like the struggles of an inner-city minority scrambling to make ends meet to you?

This profile would not match most of NY-14 voters. It is more in line the profile of a high-brow leftist hipster who leapfrogged one activist gig after the other, really only ever producing a little black book full of contacts who would support her eventual run for elected office. The non-profit sector is filled with tens of thousands of professional leftists just like this, self-righteous and angry. The minorities in their ranks typically hail from the wealthier parts of the nation, like Ocasio-Cortez. The problem is that this profile is unelectable with an urban minority, lacking the “street-cred” or in this case “the working-class cred” needed to appeal to the downtrodden and desperate. Ocasio-Cortez knew this, and of course, she made sure to get the title “bartender” on her resume before finally making the bid to run.

The common thread from these young socialists seems to be that they grew up their whole lives in the safe bubbles of their own environments throughout their years of development. Wealthier suburban dwellers rarely experience chaotic environments, the New York Times even describing her childhood home as “a modest two-bedroom house on a quiet street”. It’s difficult to convince a wealthier suburbanite that police and ICE are needed when MS-13 and gang shoot outs don’t happen right outside of you home or on your street. Their attendance at elite colleges studying things like International Relations and Ethnic Studies give them a false sense that these issues are the most pertinent to the American polity, and not more immediate and pressing issues of domestic relations, taxes, and jobs. Their activist portfolio and experience working with politicians robs them of the necessary perspective needed to understand the plight of everyday Americans who have to work hard mining coal or constructing buildings to put food on their tables. Their affinity to champion social justice via publications as opposed to taking the time out of their day to put their blood, sweat, and tears behind whoever they actually believe needs help is lost on Americans who believe charity from the heart trumps benevolence by the state.

This may be the most revealing aspect of the millennial and the millennial socialists we keep hearing about. This profile also pretty much fits that of President Barack Obama. How many kids in the South Side of Chicago attended Harvard? How many in his Chicago constituency had a white mother with political connections? Obama did however manage to sell to his constituents that he was the coolest cat in the room. A politician with “street-cred”, that is if “street-cred” means having black skin – an obviously racist notion.

Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez knew this about her narrative, so she decided to cook up the grandest of misrepresentations to fool her district into thinking she is one of them. Her tagline of “The zip code a child is born in determines much of their destiny” sounds great at face value, but doesn’t even withstand an eye test when applied to her own life. Ocasio-Cortez is certainly not bucking any trend if she, even as a minority, were brought up in the wealthy county of Westchester. A lot of people her age did live in a bubble, educated at elite institutions, and ended up winning a seat for office. This would be the profile of an establishment Democrat if she were white. If Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx district she is running for office in, her background of living in a wealthy suburb, studying at an elite institution, working for politicians, and well on her way to elected office certainly would not be a destiny shared by her constituents in the same district, therefore bucking a trend and perhaps serving as a symbol of fulfillment of the American dream. Instead, she chooses to bamboozle her constituents into believing she is a working class champion and sold a campaign of defeatist determinism to them, all the while enjoying the fruits of the social mobility that the American Dream provided her and her family.

So, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who took a jab at President Trump with her statement “I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx” on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where exactly are you from? Are you from the Bronx, educated in the same public schools as your constituents, drinking their water, living in their dilapidated planned communities and project housing, and experiencing their lack of access to higher education? Or are you from Yorktown Heights, described in a 1999 profile of the area as a “diversity of housing in a scenic setting” – complete with two golf courses and a 436-acre state park named after Donald J. Trump?

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